Three weeks now, three weeks we have been on our Lenten journey. I do not know about you, but for me these were very fast three weeks. And now we have reached the midpoint, the middle of Lent.
The Church, in its infinite wisdom, reminds us, half-way through our journey, what is the point, what is the final destination of not only Lent, but the final destination of our whole life.
The Cross is the reason for our fasting, in preparation and remembrance of Christ’s passion and suffering. The Cross is also the reason for our life and celebration because it became the instrument through which the power of death was destroyed.
No, death itself was not abolished. But now death, instead of leading to hell, becomes our passage into eternal joy with Christ in His Kingdom.
One of the hymns that we sing in church on this feast-day says, “The Church has been revealed as a second Paradise, having within it, like the first Paradise of old, a tree of life, the Cross. By touching it we share in immortality.”
Adam and Eve, who were in the old Paradise, with the original tree of life, were told not to touch the tree because they would die. Unlike them, we are told not only to touch the tree of life that is offered to us, but to take it up and follow, and inherit the Life.
“If anyone desires to become My followers,” Christ reminds us today, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” Adam and Eve were not ready, they were not mature enough to touch the tree of life. We, on the other hand, will never be mature enough, we will never be ready unless we deny ourselves, pick up our tree of life, the Cross, and follow Christ.
What does the Lord mean by the words “deny yourself?” Do we have to hate ourselves? Will hating myself lead me to loving others and, above all, Christ? No, Jesus is not telling us to hate ourselves. But he does say to turn away from ourselves, to put our ego aside, at least for a moment.
To distract our attention from ourselves is only possible if we focus it on something else. Simply to turn away our eyes and not look at anything, or to tear the heart and not direct it anywhere is difficult.
How then do we fulfill the commandment of Christ to deny ourselves? Let’s begin with something simple, something accessible to every one of us.
Let’s pretend that instead of saying, “Deny yourself,” Christ said, “Be My eyes that see a neighbor. Be My ears that hear a call, a plea, a cry of the innocent and the abused. Be My feet that hurry to help others. Be My hands that feed the hungry, wash and clothe the naked and the sick.”
By denying the self, picking up the Cross, and following Christ we remain ourselves in the deepest and most meaningful way because we turn our focus outward.
By denying the self, we take a look around, together with Christ, and ask ourselves, “Who needs Christ? Who requires His love? Who desires His purity and truth? Who wants His light?”
By denying the self we learn to listen to the life and attempt to hear those voices that rise up in prayer, anguish, joy, and respond to them. Carrying the cross and following Christ we forget about ourselves because we are absorbed with caring for others.
The Cross is brought out today to remind us about our Lenten destination; to remind about our purpose, and the endpoint of our life; to remind that we have an opportunity to be agents of Christ to His people – to share in His love, His suffering, and His joy.
To Him Who suffered on the Cross for our salvation be all glory and honor.